Scientific laws have a life journey of their own. While some end up becoming an axiom, others get derived as a corollary and few into theorems. However, only few theorems win the award to receive the status of a law. The struggle for this is quite tough as establishing theories into foundational laws can almost take up entirety of a scientist’s lifespan.
In this rat race, when we hear of a law, our natural tendency is to incline towards the statement with pre-established acceptance to its truth. However, we should have a scientific inclination to question the truth to the law instead, else science would stop to grow. Not all laws possess the luxury of Newton’s laws; while some laws only have mathematical proof, others only possess theoretical proof. In such a situation, minds are often left to ponder over the truth of the statement. Such is the case with Murphy’s law. Let’s find out what the chaos is about!
Definition of Murphy’s Law
In its simplest form, Murphy’s Law states: If anything can go wrong, it will. In reality, it’s us who give Murphy’s Law relevance. When life goes well, little is made of it. After all, we expect that things should work out in our favor. But when things go badly, we look for reasons. Murphy’s Law taps into our tendency to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive. It seems to poke fun at us for being such hotheads, and it uses the rules of probability to support itself.
Here could be some instances where this law plays out in our heads:
- When you lose something important, you won’t expect to find it in the last place you look.
- When standing in line in a large store with multiple checkouts, you watch the other lines to move faster. Even when you try moving to a shorter line as many times as you like, you always find it to become the slowest.
- If your laptop has been misbehaving and you take it to your IT Department, it works perfectly when the IT guy tries it out.
Frustrating, eh? You can even try this out for yourself and test your thought process. Imagine yourself sitting comfortably at home and eating a cheeze-dripping pizza and now imagine that with you completely dressed up for a formal event. You will be convinced that somehow something will drip on your dress.
Edward J Murphy was a Major in the US Air Force in the 1940s, specializing in development engineering. As much of his work involved testing experimental designs, he was frequently faced with things that didn’t exactly go to plan. Scholars differ on precisely what words were originally used when the phrase ‘Murphy’s Law’ was first coined, but the meaning is evident.
Furthermore, as Murphy and his team were breaking new ground, they were unable to rely on the kind of tried-and-tested procedures used effectively elsewhere in the military to ensure zero defects. As a result, they had to depend on their own initiative to get things right, and one team member in particular could virtually be relied upon to step on the proverbial banana skin.
According to Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford, so-called laws like Murphy’s law is nonsense because they require inanimate objects to have desires of their own, or else to react according to one’s own desires. Dawkins points out that a certain class of events may occur all the time, but are only noticed when they become a nuisance. He gives as an example aircraft noise interfering with filming. Aircraft are in the sky all the time, but are only taken note of when they cause a problem. This is a form of confirmation bias whereby the investigator seeks out evidence to confirm his already formed ideas, but does not look for evidence that contradicts them.
Similarly, David Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics and senior research investigator at Imperial College London, points out that the law of truly large numbers should lead one to expect the kind of events predicted by Murphy’s law to occur occasionally. Selection bias will ensure that those ones are remembered and the many times Murphy’s law was not true are forgotten.
There have been persistent references to Murphy’s law associating it with the laws of thermodynamics from early on. In particular, Murphy’s law is often cited as a form of the second law of thermodynamics (the law of entropy) because both are predicting a tendency to a more disorganised state. All in all, it is disregarded on grounds that our judgement is purely based on our bias towards the occurrence of negative outcomes of events, completely shutting our eye towards finding proof to counter-events.
Apart from the law of thermodynamics, several business theories are also extended based on Murphy’s law:
- Project Planning: If anything can go wrong, it will. Usually at the most inopportune time.
- Performance Management: If someone can get it wrong, they will.
- Risk Assessment: If several things can go wrong, the one you would least like to happen will occur.
- Practical creativity: If you can think of four ways that something can go wrong, it will go wrong in a fifth way.
After all, when approaching an electrical socket with a two-pronged plug engineered to only fit one way, we have a 50-percent chance of getting it right. Then again, we have a 50-percent chance of getting it wrong, too. Perhaps the best explanation for our attraction to Murphy’s Law is an underlying belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.